Health

How a Failing Business Model Found A New Demographic to Fuel Profits

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Traumatizing our youth one pound at a time

Michelle V Scott, MSW, MS

The diet industries profits have been on the decline for a few years now. The reason for this shift? More and more people realize that diets are harmful or damaging to the metabolisms and spirits of human beings.

With these realizations, people are seeking more holistic approaches to their health and wellness, in addition to aligning with more preferred messaging such as that from the body positive and fat acceptance communities.

Now, make no mistake, the weight loss industry is still making money hand-over-fist. Research suggests the United States weight loss market has grown into a 72 billion dollar a year industry. It is the dieting sector that is down.

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The diet industry has been a long-time player in the larger weight loss industry game. Matter-of-fact they were the games Seminole players fueling legions of captivated and die-hard fans with their messaging.

In 2018 Weight Watchers reported a declining subscriber base. Even with the Oprah effect in place, their subscriber base was not what it used to be. That is until they introduced Kurbo, which is changing the diet culture landscape.

WW, formally known as Weight Watchers, is tapping into a segment of the market that has been seemingly untouched — children. Yes! Kurbo is an app developed by WW that caters to children and youth ages 8–17 years old.

When I heard about this weight loss app, my first thought was, WTF? Children have enough to deal with in the world these days now they have to worry about dieting too? In my opinion — this is not a good idea.

Here’s why.

The Great Obesity Debate

“Obesity” or fat (my preferred descriptor) is a topic being debated heavily. The rise of the body positive and fat acceptance movements, in addition to people realizing that diets don’t work, have caused people to diet less these days.

However, there is still a divide when it comes to discussing weight and weight loss. Some people believe being fat inherently makes a person unhealthy. While other people know that weight is not the sole determinant of health.

Regardless of the side one falls on this topic regarding their beliefs, children should remain off-limits, and there are several reasons for such a notion. However, today, I will outline three of them.

#1 Children Have Little Control Over Their Food Choices

When was the last time you saw an eight-year-old earn income and shop for their own food? Honestly, I didn’t start purchasing my own food until I was well into my early 20’s. Yes, I bought things before then but not serious food.

I didn’t do serious shopping until I had my own place. Hell, I didn’t understand how to stretch a dollar until I was in my 30’s. I know everyone’s situation is different than mine, but I would argue many children are the same.

Plus, if your household was anything like mine, you didn’t ask about food. You ate whatever was fixed for you. This brings up another concern regarding Kurbo — parents who control their children’s eating because of fat fears.

If a parent is unaware of their own disordered eating behaviors, how will this affect children who aren’t even close to having any weight issues? Size is subjective. What one person calls fat another calls normal.

There are parents out there in the world — I know because I’ve seen them — who’s children are straight-size and the parents still want them to be thinner. Kurbo is ripe for this infringement on a child’s right to intuitive food consumption.

#2 Some Children are Dealing with Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is more commonplace these days than one would think. Families dollars simply aren’t going as far as they used to go. But that is pretty much the deal with everything these days.

And not all children dealing with food insecurity are living in poverty. Some of them are living in $400,000.00 homes. Some are attending schools in the best school districts. These children may have parents that are house poor.

What does house poor mean? It means the same thing as being car poor, or school poor, or neighborhood poor. It means that a person is using most of their income to pay for housing. Why would someone do this?

The reasons for someone being house poor are many. Maybe they sacrifice buying nutritionally dense food so their child can obtain a good education. Perhaps they want to be able to live in an area with minimal crime.

Maybe when the person purchased the house, they could afford it and nutritious food, but their life has now changed due to the loss of a job or spouse. Losing a spouse can tremendously affect household income.

No one can know why a person is house poor.

Either way, food insecurity can play its part in children’s waistlines. Again the problem isn’t always the person’s “willpower” or “dedication.” Sometimes the issues are systemic and beyond the person’s control.

#3 Other Children Live in Food Deserts

Some children live in food deserts. If you are not familiar with the term food deserts, I’m here to tell you living in one of them sucks. I know because I currently live in a food desert. Luckily I have access to a car and stable income.

Food deserts are defined as an area that does not have access to a supermarket. Many times these food deserts are found in some of the poorest neighborhoods, including the inner city and rural areas.

I live inside the city of Buffalo, New York, and my closest supermarket is three miles away. That may not seem far to some, but when there are sixty inches of snow on the ground, it’s a trek. And to ride the bus to and from costs $5.00.

When I didn’t have a car and had limited money, it was much easier to go to the corner bodega and get something from there. Typically it was something cheap that had a long shelf life such as Ramen, Chef Boyardee, or fast food.

Lack of access and lack of transportation can be enormous barriers for people living in a food desert. This impacts the parents, thus impacting the children, causing them to be deprived of fresh produce and unprocessed selections.

If a person is affected by only one of these conditions, or even if they are prey to all of them and more, Kurbo is not going to help them. These disparities significantly impact one’s nutrition and the practice of eating.

When a person has limited access to good nutritious food, their waistline will most likely be affected. Nevertheless, it is not always affected. That is why there is also a thing as known as “skinny fat.” What is skinny fat?

Skinny fat is when a person is deemed healthy because they are visually thin but actually have similar medical conditions that are correlated to people who are considered to be obese. But skinny-fat people and children fly under the radar.

Why? Because these people are dealing with food insecurity, they live in food deserts, and they eat like crap. The thing that sets them apart is the fact that they metabolize food differently. They remain thin.

Just as diets miss the mark in this area, so will Kurbo. People spend way too much time focused on a person’s size than what is actually going on in a person’s body. This is the problem with diet culture.

I personally do not believe that all fat is bad or that every child who is at a heavier weight in their early years will automatically be heavy in their latter years. But I’m told that I am Ms. Unpopular Opinion on this subject matter.

People from both sides of the fence say that I’m size shaming them with my beliefs. For example, I think that a person being too thin or too heavy can potentially be problematic. Both can be correlated with disease.

I also believe in body positivity and fat acceptance. Why? Because people should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their body size, ability level, gender identity, and so on. I believe in respect and health promotion.

However, I don’t believe in diet culture or the thin ideal. So, what do I believe in, you ask? I believe that people should do the best they can at the moment. If a person lives in a food desert, then they should eat what they have access to.

I believe if a person has more month than money, receives SNAP benefits, is on a fixed income, or has any other situation that creates a barrier to their food consumption they should eat what they can afford.

This food may not always be “healthy” and sometimes can be the cause for many of the comorbid conditions we see in the larger weight population. This is why we see the same conditions in some of the thin community.

Weight is a complex subject to deal with. Just as food insecurity is a problem, there are so many other things that can impact a person’s weight: genetics, trauma, and culture are a mere few of these potential issues impacting weight.

These are issues that require more actions beyond the standard advice of eat less and exercise more. Until society is ready to deal with America’s so-called “obesity epidemic” on a systemic level, these diet companies need to shut up.

We’ve discussed that children typically do not earn income, and are usually not in control of the food they have access to. Therefore, Kurbo is not really for the children but for the parents of children. Especially the moms

Moms are the people who are often in control of the household food purchases. Moms are also typically the largest demographic of dieters, and WW is aiming to recover lost profits by capitalizing on their babies.

Kurbo doesn’t really care about the health of children. A good portion of people don’t care about the health of children. If they did SNAP benefits would not be getting slashed since the biggest group of people getting them are kids.

The only thing Kurbo is doing is creating more food issues among youth, sparking a new generation of chronic dieters.

Diet Cultures Racketeering Ways

Capitalism — not health promotion — is diet cultures fuel. There is nothing healthy about Kurbo’s red, yellow, and green light food system which informs a child’s meal selections. It is merely a simplified way to cultivate disordered eating.

You see diet culture must survive at all cost. There are CEO’s and organizations who have built their wealth on the backs of fat people and in no way are they willing to let their profits go gentle into that good night.

WW is early in the game when it comes to targeting children specifically. However, I think it is safe to say based on diet culture’s track record that they will not be the last, as companies race to maintain profit margins.

When I first heard about a dieting app for kids, I thought it was a colossal joke. I guess I should correct myself and say I hoped it was a colossal joke. But I know diet culture all too well to let my head roam around in those clouds.

With social media being the beast that it is for our children, and with all the mass shootings that have been going on in schools and society, children are already inundated with enough heavy stuff to navigate.

Don’t let their food practices be added to that list. I see Kurbo as another potential means for children to be victimized and traumatized. It is time for everyone to hold WW’s feet to the fire. WW STOP TARGETING CHILDREN!

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